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campus scene

A quiet passion Prof. Tad Kuroda honored
Fashion police
How songbirds dress for success
Creative Genius
Heather Hurst '97 wins MacArthur grant
Front man at the Tang
New museum director
Winning number Of odds and iPods
Sharing worldly words Acclaimed poet Rita Dove
Smooth operator
The "voice of Skidmore" retires
Professoriat What the faculty are up to
Hall of Famers make history
Sports standouts inducted
Sportswrap Thoroughbred highlights
Horn of plenty Joshua Redman in jazz residency
Beatlemania 2004 The MU 345 tradition rocks on
Faculty and alumni authors


Winning number

What’s on Flip’s iPod?

  • a paper I’m writing with Martin Voshell ’02 on perception of the world behind your head
  • pictures of my nine-month-old
    daughter, Violet
  • journal articles I need to review
  • drum-and-bugle corps performances
  • a program I’m writing to analyze line drawings
  • old Miles Davis tunes
  • a lot of Frank Zappa
  • “Ring Chimes” (one of Dad’s
    singles from 1958)
  • slides for a lecture I’m giving
  • ’80s music I’m embarrassed
    to divulge

Flip Phillips loves all kinds of tools, from rudimentary to complex. In his office, he keeps a set of wooden drumsticks at hand to beat out a riff on his knee now and then. “These,” he notes, “are the most analog things in my life.” Sure enough, it’s the tools of the digital universe that really fascinate him. “I’m an early adopter,” he says, always eager to try out the newest technology. Mind you, he has no desk drawers full of neglected gadgets. “I only buy things I am going to use.”
Phillips, a psychology professor, didn’t have to buy his new iPod, because he won it in the “100 Million Songs” promotion at Apple Computer’s iTunes music store, where you can download a song for…well, a song—99 cents. The iPod is Apple’s hand-sized computer, wildly popular among young people as a take-it-everywhere music source. First you shop the Internet for music and copy it onto your iPod, then you hook the iPod to your belt, pop in the earpiece, and off you go to your own drummer. Phillips does love music (his dad was a well-known sax player), but he says, “I mostly use the iPod as a sort of digital briefcase,” to transport academic and research data between his home and office computers.

He won the contest by solving a mathematical problem. Apple was giving away an iPod for every 100,000th iTune downloaded, so Phillips set out to calculate the best mo-ment to hit one of those milestones. He found online data about the quantities and times of purchases and devised a nonlinear time-series model for the download “spike”—when thousands of purchasers vie for a winning position. He then maximized his chances by ordering an entire Leo Kottke album. One of its songs registered as download number 95,400,000, and the new iPod was soon in Phillips’s eager hand.

As a neuroscientist, Phillips studies the way humans perceive shape in three dimensions. He began his career in design and typography and was one of the earliest staffers at Pixar animation studio. Combine those skills with his passion for tools and you have someone with a keen eye for industrial design. He declares the iPod’s newest model a winner: “It is really thin; I love that,” he wrote in his Weblog. “The new click-wheel and UI [user interface] are very nice too. Both major improvements.” At least until the next version catches his eye. —KG