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Electrifying Handhelds

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_____Recent E-letters_____
Sony Connect Online Music Service (washingtonpost.com, May 10, 2004)
All About WiFi (washingtonpost.com, Apr 26, 2004)
Computer Recycling Tips (washingtonpost.com, Apr 19, 2004)
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Speaking of the iPod, I got an interesting look at the culture that's built up around that digital-music player Wednesday night. Washingtonpost.com nightlife guru Fritz Hahn and a few friends decided to stage an "iPod Jukebox" instead of the usual DJ night at the Galaxy Hut, a tiny bar on Arlington's Wilson Boulevard.

The deal was simple: B.Y.O. iPod (or any other MP3 player) and play 10 minutes of whatever music you want over the bar's sound system.

Being a fan of the iPod and of the Hut, I decided I couldn't miss the event. So I headed over there after dinner -- and almost missed the center of the festivities. The entire setup consisted of one table in the corner, a compact mixer on top of it, and a whiteboard where people could write their names.

Three or four iPods were clustered around that at any one time waiting to be played (Fritz told me he kept his in its case, just so he wouldn't confuse it with anybody else's). When somebody's turn came up, he or she would plug the iPod into the mixer and then either cue up a playlist or, if the iPod didn't support Apple's "on-the-go" playlist option, manually skip from song to song using the iPod's scroll wheel.

Most of this went fine, although there was some brief confusion until one woman realized her iPod's volume was too low. Somebody else's iPod mini locked up briefly ("@#$*! iPod!" he commented while fiddling with it). The 10-minute limit turned out to be 12 or so in practice, or three or four songs per person.

And it all worked. A lot more people buy iPods than turntables these days, and iPods are also much easier to haul around than crates of records -- so opening up the usual DJ night to anybody who walked in with an iPod made the event feel much more, well, democratic.

You know what it's like for a friend to pull a few CDs off the shelf and say "hey, check this out?" Well, the technology here allowed 13 or so people to do the same favor for a crowd of strangers. Pretty cool.

My own favorite was a song called "Love Will Freak Us" -- a mash-up of Joy Division's New Wave Classic "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and, of all the things, Missy Elliott's "Get Your Freak On." That unlikely, bizarrely catchy mix was probably the best-received song of the evening: Guys gave this iPod's owner thumbs-ups of approval, while women shimmied in their seats to the beat.

-- Rob Pegoraro (rob@twp.com)

P.S. If you missed last week's Web chat on WiFi, you can read the archived transcript here.

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