Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Friday, September 23, 2021

random act
A long while back, I pondered the perceived anti-randomness of the iPod’s shuffle setting. (So long ago, in fact, that my scribblings here predated the actual iPod Shuffle model, which I’m sure frustrates many a Googler coming this way).

It’s a topic that refuses to die, and delving into the inner workings of the shuffle basically uncovered the obvious:

To illustrate his point, [mathematician Jeff] Lait referred to a phenomenon statisticians call the birthday paradox. Roughly stated, it holds that if there are 23 randomly selected people in a room, there is a better than 50-50 chance that at least two of them will have the same birthday. The point: Mathematical randomness often contradicts our intuitive expectations of randomness.

What we want, Lait says, isn’t a list that’s been randomized, but one that’s been stratified, or separated into categories that are weighted by a listener’s preferences. A stratified playlist might select songs randomly but would be smart enough to throw out choices that, say, would repeat a band within 10 songs.

Put another way: When you flip a coin multiple times to generate a random sequence, you expect “random” to result in some roughly equal split between heads and tails. If you get heads 10 times in a row, you automatically suspect there must be something odd going on. Yet there’s no reason to think that, because that’s exactly what true randomness is — a possibility that you’re going to get that sort of result, all things being equal.

Judging from the feedback on that article, looks like a lot of people obsess over this minutae.

- Costa Tsiokos, Fri 09/23/2005 06:09:20 PM
Category: Tech | Permalink |

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