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 |

Trackback this entry: Right-click and copy link
Feedback »
Leave a comment


PLEASE NOTE: Various types of comment moderation may be triggered once you hit the "Say It!" button below. Common causes for this are the inclusion of several hyperlinks and/or spam words in the comment field. Please do not hit the "Say It!" button more than once. If you feel your comment is being blocked without cause, feel free to email me about it.